Kitchener-Waterloo

Volunteer firefighters exempt from on-call provisions in Fair Workplaces Act

Ontario's Ministry of Labour plans to amend its fair workplaces legislation, Bill 148, after municipalities argued it would bankrupt their volunteer fire departments.

'It would have been a big financial hit for no improvement in services,' says Mayor Chris White

Amendments to Bill 148 specifically refer to concerns municipalities have over their volunteer firefighters. (CP)

Ontario's Ministry of Labour plans to amend its fair workplaces legislation after municipalities argued it would bankrupt their volunteer fire departments.

As it is now written, Bill 148 — the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act — would require municipalities to pay volunteer firefighters the same as their full-time counterparts.

Volunteer firefighters would also be entitled to three hours of pay for every day they were on call, which — technically — is every day. 

"Frankly, it would have been undoable," said Chris White, mayor of Guelph-Eramosa township and a board member of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. "We just don't have the money to convert our volunteer firefighters to full-time firefighters."

17 per cent property tax increase

White said his township has about 40 volunteer firefighters who serve a township with more than 12,000 people spread over almost 300 square kilometres.

To pay those firefighters a full-time wage, he said the municipality would have had to increase property taxes by over 17 per cent. 

"A pretty significant hit," he said. "We saw it very early and began to lobby right away and I know AMO and the Rural Ontario Municipal Association — ROMA — picked it up pretty quick."

AMO advocates for municipalities

In July, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario submitted an 11 page report to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, which explained how Bill 148 would impact any local government with a volunteer fire department. 

The report recommended several amendments, including:

  • An exemption for all municipal employees who are required to be on call to provide public safety services.
  • No minimum three-hours pay for being on call for firefighters.
  • Allowing different rates of pay for full-time and volunteer firefighters.

Government promises amendments

These requests are addressed in a letter to municipal leaders dated Nov. 14, which is signed by Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn and Minister of Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro.

According to the letter, the government is proposing amendments to Bill 148 that would "add exemptions to the on-call pay and the 96 hours notice scheduling rules."

"An employer would not be required to provide on-call pay to an employee who was on call, and not required to work, if the reason for the on-call shift was to ensure the continued delivery of essential public services, such as fire, utility and snow removal services," the letter says.

The amendments would also "exempt firefighters from the equal pay for equal work provision with respect to employment status," and would clarify "that volunteer firefighters will not be entitled the same pay as full-time firefighters."

MPPs will vote on the final version of the bill this Wednesday, which include the above amendments, according to a Ministry of Labour spokesperson.

About the Author

Melanie Ferrier is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in Kitchener, Ont. You can email her at melanie.ferrier@cbc.ca.

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